Interview with vocalist Vinnie Caruana | By Nicholas Senior
Comfort and nostalgia are tricky bastards. When our favorite things get the reboot, we have certain hopes and biases that make it difficult to judge the new media with realistic expectations. That phenomenon certainly played into the very incredibly long-awaited upcoming record from New York-based band, The Movielife.
Their 2003 pre-breakup release, Forty Hour Train Back to Penn, was an incredible record—and surely, you’re playing one of its 11 songs in your head right now—but not to worry: Cities In Search of a Heart, out Sept. 22 via Rise Records, is at least as good, if not better. However, that comparison is inherently unfair and unnecessary, because The Movielife understand how to capture the spirit of what made them great all those years ago even more acutely in 2017. The new record has that classic put-the-CD-on-in-your-car-and-fall-in-love-instantly feel, and these 10 songs will inspire fans to rekindle their romance with an old favorite.
Nostalgia aside, Cities In Search of a Heart proves The Movielife are comfortable with growing up instead of trying to relive their glory days. Vocalist Vinnie Caruana states that this was part of the band’s approach. “It’s definitely a different approach, which was super important. We had to be happy with it,” he says. “We had to imagine what we wanted to sound like this much further down the road. It wasn’t easy to figure all this out. It’s scary a little bit, because I know how it goes. Being a music fan—as we all are—I know how it goes when a band you love puts out a record that much further down the line, and you really do approach it with caution,” he laughs. “I’m aware of that.”
“So, we just tried to make the best record we possibly could,” he continues. “We certainly didn’t want to try to relive or remake a record we already did when we were much younger dudes, but we’ve learned a lot about songwriting. I’ve learned a lot more about my voice and what I can do with it. We tried to just apply everything that we’ve learned and, at the same time, how to write a Movielife record without sounding exactly how we did when we were kids—while, at the same time, without totally freaking everyone out,” he laughs.
That viewpoint helped prevent Caruana from getting caught in the nostalgia trap. “The nostalgia thing is always there when we play shows. It’s never gonna go away,” he concedes, “and that’s cool. I’m glad those songs still mean that to all those people, and that those songs were part of people’s formative years. They were part of my formative years—I wasn’t that much older than a lot of the people who were coming to watch us play, so we were growing up together.”
“Now,” he shares, “this time, when [guitarist] Brandon [Reilly] and I decided that we were going to start writing for real, I was basically like, ‘Dude, I want to do all of this together. I don’t want you to write the music and give it to me, and I’ll write the words. I want to just write songs together,’ and that’s what we did. We’d never done it like that before. I never wrote music for Movielife; I would just write the vocals and lyrics after they handed it to me. It was just a totally different experience. We put all nostalgia aside and said, ‘We know we know what we’re doing. We’re good at what we do. Let’s fucking do it together and just make a powerhouse record.’”
So, the band just lowered their expectations? It was that simple? Caruana expands, “Brandon hadn’t written punk music in a while. Right before I was going on a solo tour last summer, we had been working just trying to break some ice. Most of what we had written then is not on the record, because we were trying to figure out how to make a Movielife record that our fans and we are going to like in 2017. I told Brandon to write a punk song while I was gone, and he was like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’ I think he thought I meant to write something like when we were young.”
“So, I wrote a song that I considered to be a punk song, and it turned out to be [the album opener], ‘Ski Mask,’” he recalls. “His ears heard it as a revved-up Pixies song—which, I get it. That opened his ears to realizing he can just write whatever. He had some mental ice that needed to be broken, and that song marked a sharp turn on the record. As soon as I showed him what I meant, and we realized we can just do what we want to do—there’s really no rules. ‘Let’s just write a lot of music, and we’ll know what’s good by the time we record it.’ That gave us a chance to relax and realize we can write music together, write lyrics together. We can just have a fucking blast and not be stressed out. We were worried about what we were going to sound like and realized, ‘Who cares? Let’s just make noise.’ Nobody’s rushing us to do anything. The world didn’t know we were writing a record at that time.”
Despite the more than a decade worth of expectations, once Caruana realized he and Reilly could just be two friends writing the shit they wanted to play together, everything clicked. “Exactly,” he agrees. “You have to get there, and I know it sounds easy, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, ‘This has to be a Movielife record.’ I think we achieved it.”
“Ski Mask” was a bit of a lyrical kick-starter, as well. Caruana laughs, “There is some metaphor in there. This song is about an obsessed person beating your door down and saying, ‘We can do this the easy way or the hard way.’ It’s kind of sinister, kind of sarcastic, and kind of joking, but there is definitely a parallel [with our fans]. It’s definitely not a coincidence that it opens the record. It’s kind of a reintroduction of the band to the listener, saying, ‘What’s up, man? We’ve been through a lot together.’ It’s a mission statement that says, ‘In the next half-hour, we’re going to fall back in love with each other. We don’t need to live in the past—we’re always going to have the past, and we’re always going to play those songs for you—but here’s a Movielife record. This is what you wanted. So, give it a listen—a real listen, not a 2017 check-your-Instagram-four-times-while-listening-through-your phone-speaker [listen]—give it a real listen like you did back then, when you remember getting obsessed with records. The way you got obsessed with those records is you gave them time and made them a part of your life.’ That’s kind of the message of that song: ‘Put this in your ears for a half-hour, listen to this record, and let me in.’”
Caruana adds that Cities In Search of a Heart’s pop-me-into-your-car’s-CD-player-and-go-for-a-ride feel was intentional. “That’s the ideal,” he says. “That’s how I got into so many records, driving around. You can remember where you were when you got into certain records and when they clicked, like what highway or street you were on. You can see it and remember when it became your record. That’s the thing: as soon as [we] put a record out, it’s not ours anymore, it’s everyone else’s.”
The Movielife sought to discuss many things on this record, but Caruana specifically mentions “Mercy Is Asleep at the Wheel,” which references humans’ waning ability to show compassion. “Every day, it gets worse and worse and gets more difficult for me to be in the same human race with a lot of people,” he admits. “It’s really a weird time to be alive as an American, and a lot of this record was really written and recorded during it all, leading up to November , then we started recording a few days after Inauguration Day [on Jan. 20, 2017] and recorded the record into early March, when everything was just starting to take hold. We were just starting to see how fucked everything was gonna get.”
“The whole record has an overtone of where we are. It’s not ignoring that reality,” he asserts. “Even when we’re happy and enjoying our lives—which we need to do, obviously—you can’t just ignore how we all feel right now. That’s littered and sprinkled throughout the record, that contemporary confusion and just fucking sadness that America’s going this way.”
“That being said,” Caruana laughs, “it’s not really a depressing record. I think we’ve all figured out that I’m not going to just write a political record; it’s not a Movielife thing to do. That would be to tastefully incorporate where we’re all at, incorporate my feelings on certain situations into our vibe.”
“It’s important to have compassion and empathy for what’s going on, but let’s also kind of remind ourselves that we have each other, and that’s huge,” he elaborates. “I wanted to move out of New York for so fucking long, because I’ve been here forever and I just wanted to try something new for a bit. I’m just not sure if I can right now. How do I leave my people? They’re more important to me than ever now; we’re in this together. ‘Pour Two Glasses’ is exactly that: any sort of depression, sadness, or just black clouds that can overtake us—just taking the time to tell someone, ‘Hold on, slow down, I’m coming over. Let’s love and have some light in our lives.’”